The COVID-19 pandemic has put the entire tourism chain under immense pressure. When tourism came to a complete standstill, South Africa’s guesthouses and hotels were standing empty, attractions closed, and experiences were desperately waiting for the next adventurers. Even though limited business travel is again possible, the struggle continues for many tourism establishments.
Jurni CMO Tshepo Matlou touches base with Jurni CEO Dr Nomvuselelo Songelwa to discuss how the right technology can help tourism SMMEs overcome a number of the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 has forced everyone – not just the tourism industry – to start leveraging digital platforms. It’s become the new norm and will continue to be the new norm for the foreseeable future,” says Dr Songelwa.
However, there are several other ways technology can help SMMEs during this time:
A call for a centralised communications platform
Dr Songelwa explains there has been a call in recent travel and tourism webinars for the establishment of a centralised communications platform. “There is a real need for a centralised communication channel for the tourism industry. Some of the industry players say it’s become increasingly difficult to communicate with the industry without including the media. By including the media, some messages attract unnecessary comments. That’s why they are looking for a credible platform where it is possible to interact with the rest of the industry. This is what we can offer as Jurni.”
Explore online booking options
If you haven’t explored the possibilities of an online booking tool, now is the time to do so. Jurni recently launched an affordable booking tool for South African accommodation providers.
“What makes the Jurni booking tool unique is that it provides business solutions to all providers, even those who have not been able to use technology before. The tool manages your inventory and services and allows business owners to communicate with clients directly and give them instant feedback. The tool further also facilitates invoices and reports,” says Dr Songelwa, who urges SMMEs to get in touch with Jurni to explore the possibilities. “The time of using paper-based systems is long gone!”
Be guided by data to make intelligent decisions
The Jurni data hub can play a vital role in helping the tourism industry make reliable and intelligent decisions for the future of tourism in the country. The data hub is able to provide in-depth insights and reliable analysis of integrated data with the help of appointed data scientists.
One example is the events industry in South Africa. Until this day, events have never been included in the South African statistics. The Jurni data hub will change this and will capture and collect data from all events: whether it is business events, sports events or religious events.
“The main aim of the Jurni data hub is to offer one centralised platform for all available data in the South African tourism industry,” says Dr Songelwa. “We would like to ask the industry to come on board and help us build this initiative.”
Visitor apps to encourage domestic and international travellers to explore South Africa
Jurni is also in the process of launching a visitor app and information portal. This will facilitate communication for travellers throughout the booking experience: from finding information to exploring packages and itineraries to booking their travels. The data generated through this app will feed into the Jurni data hub.
“Although most of today don’t know when we’ll be able to travel, we do know that the day will come that we’ll travel again. Soon, we’ll once again be visiting our families and friends, or going to those important business events. That’s why it’s important for both travellers and tourism establishments to make intelligent choices.”
Travellers will turn to digital platforms to help guide them on which outdoor activities to choose for their next travels. They’ve been locked down for such a long time; they’ll crave the outdoor world. “South Africa has so much to offer throughout the country, from adventure activities to national parks and nature-based tourism. Travellers should find new experiences that contribute to SMME development.”
For tourism establishments, COVID-19 has made us realise; we can’t compromise on hygiene and safety.
Says Dr Songelwa: “Before we welcome international travellers once again, domestic tourism is really going to thrive. South African travellers should share their experiences of their own country through digital platforms to show the world that South Africa is ready to welcome them again.”
Collaboration is the key to the future
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of collaboration across the tourism value chain. Collaboration is mentioned in all the strategic documents, but how can tourism establishments reach out and ensure true collaboration on both national and local levels?
“Imagine the innovation and unique experiences we could offer at a local level if the established companies and the smaller companies work together. When travellers are staying at the Tableview Hotel in Cape Town, imagine they could meet locals in the foyer who would take them for an immersive experience in one of Cape Town’s townships. That kind of collaboration would truly enhance the visitor experience.”
To first step towards collaboration is belonging to an association. As we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the associations are the voice of the industry, and they lobby on behalf of the industry. These associations will empower their members with information.
“Let’s not lock ourselves down. It’s time for everyone to start creating those unique experiences that every traveller will be excited about.”